Those of us who grew up with Italian grandmothers know what it’s like to live in an environment where food is an expression of love.
We’ve seen firsthand the smiles a good meal elicits. So, it’s no surprise that, as adults, we, too, are interested in creating a similar mood.
As a child, Christian DeLutis observed his grandmother creating praiseworthy meals from simple ingredients and soon learned that he was happiest behind a stove. His passion led him to the Pittsburgh Culinary Institute and, upon completion of the program, to top kitchens in Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Ireland.
After spending years away from home, DeLutis decided that it was time to return to the area.
“Family is here,” he said. “I missed home, and I wanted to bring here what I learned over the years.”
Arriving back in central PA, he soon went to work with Tröegs Brewery in Hershey to develop their “snack bar.” The project was so successful that it created a national buzz, with magazines like “All About Beer” singing its praises, using words like “adventurous, forward thinking and experimental.” After five years at Tröegs, DeLutis decided that it was time to move on, to take his career to the next level and become his own boss.
Shared & Loved
Owning his own restaurant was a long-held dream for DeLutis, and he felt that the best way to execute his vision was to start from scratch.
He worked with locally based Yingst Homes to build his restaurant in an emerging planned community located just off Nyes Road between Locust Lane and Union Deposit Road in the Union Station development.
“We chose this area because it is not as tucked away as some planned communities,” he said. “We are convenient to most locations on the East Shore, and there is a parking lot out back that accommodates 100 cars.”
In a nod to his mother’s pet name for him, DeLutis chose the Native American word, “Koda,” for his eatery, which means ‘little bear.’
Upon walking into Koda, the dining room immediately stands out or, in current parlance, is “Instagram worthy.”
An enormous, blue neon sign hangs over the open kitchen spelling out the restaurant name and its founding year in Roman numerals. The space, with its high ceiling and unfinished wainscoting, has an industrial vibe, with elements of Americana pulled from various decades.
Hobnail drinking glasses hail from the 1930s, and tufted booths evoke the steakhouses of the 1950s. One can almost picture the British model Twiggy perched on any one of the mod, white plastic chairs that complement rectangular tables of the same color.
As for the food, DeLutis describes it as “nostalgic” and explains that he considers it “vintage cuisine viewed beneath a modern lens.” The made-from-scratch, Americana-inspired dishes include creative takes on comfort foods like Swedish meatballs (venison, currants, egg noodles, gravy), gnocchi (scallop, lobster, fennel cream) and crispy duck leg (baked beans, barley, bacon, molasses).
Last month, Brenden Orth was one of the first customers to visit the restaurant, just days after it opened. He left praising the homemade pretzel rolls that arrived hot at the table topped with honey butter and the pork tenderloin served with bacon, red cabbage and dumplings.
“Everything was delicious and seasoned perfectly, and my wife thought her salmon was the best she’s ever had,” he said.
The couple made a point to save room for dessert, ordering apple pie and baked Alaska.
“We shared and loved both,” Orth said.
DeLutis attributes the early praise to a well-choreographed team.
“I make no decision without the other three chefs: the chef de cuisine, the pastry chef and the lead cook,” he said. “We all have to nod in agreement when making decisions.”
Through experience, he’s learned that a positive, supportive work environment is key to maintaining top-notch employees.
“I believe that will result in good food and good service,” he said. “We’re not trying to be pretentious here.”
But good food isn’t the only reason to venture out to Koda. In a trend that’s becoming increasingly popular, the restaurant is partnering with a new brewery, which is located under the same roof.
Newfangled Brew Works opened just before Koda, but the timing worked out well. The two operations share about 12,000 square feet of space, but they’re technically separate. So, you can enjoy a craft beer in the casual brewery or slip into Koda for a great meal and cocktail.
Run by brew master Adam Cole, Newfangled prides itself on serving crisp, American-style beers. So, while you’ll find a solid IPA and wheat beer, you probably won’t be faced with anything on the bleeding edge of hoppy or sour.
Cole earned his beer bona fides at well-known breweries like Harrisburg-based Appalachian Brewing Co. and Victory Brewing Co. in Downingtown. He said that his degree in biotechnology has translated well into brewing, too. Then there was his experience as a bomb technician in the Air Force, which, he said, has helped him enter the tough world of business ownership.
“I learned not to sweat the small stuff,” he said, with a laugh.
For now, Cole anticipates turning out between 700 and 1,000 barrels annually, offering four standard beers, along with seasonal brews. Wines and spirits will also be available, as will casual fare like tacos, chicharrones and pork carnitas served from an on-site taco truck.
The brewery, which accommodates about 100 patrons, is meant to be an easygoing, fun experience, marked by live music and even party games like Jenga, Connect4 and Ping Pong.
The partnership between Koda and Newfangled enables patrons to enjoy a beer, cocktail or glass of wine at either one place or the other, or both. Even though Cole and DeLutis are running each business separately, both are united in one goal: to foster socialization by creating a fun, approachable destination where everyone feels welcome.